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Federal legislation aimed at strengthening the federal government’s monitoring and reporting of infectious diseases – most recently the H1N1 flu outbreak, was introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman on Friday.
Bingaman’s “Strengthening America’s Public Health System Act” seeks to improve electronic disease surveillance and reporting so that all state and local health departments and public health laboratories can readily and seamlessly receive, monitor and report infectious diseases.
It also would help strengthen national surveillance and reporting of infectious diseases and other conditions of public health importance, he said in a news release.
“Currently, many local public health departments continue to rely on paper-based systems and have not yet fully benefited from new technologies that could improve their work objectives. This bill would help state and local health departments make necessary upgrades to help them enhance their surveillance of infectious diseases and quickly respond to outbreaks,” Bingaman said.
Specifically, the bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to do the following:
• Establish the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Grant Program to help public health agencies improve surveillance for, and response to, infectious diseases and other conditions;
• Authorizes a process for determining a list of nationally notifiable diseases and conditions and, creates a national committee to evaluate best practices in public health surveillance;
• Issues guidelines for public health entities relating to information systems to receive, monitor, and report infectious diseases and other such conditions;
• Addresses documented workforce shortages in state and local health departments in applied public health epidemiology and public health laboratory science and informatics;
• Provides for the expansion of applied epidemiology training programs;
• Requires the Secretary of HHS to adopt and use guidelines to develop improved standards and protocols for bi-national epidemiology, surveillance, laboratory analyses, and control of infectious diseases between the United States and Mexico; and
• Establishes a committee to evaluate best practices in public health surveillance and to assess systems needed for improving coordination among public health surveillance and monitoring systems.
Los Alamos Emergency Management Coordinator Philmont Taylor spoke about Bingaman’s bill during an interview late Friday.
“I thought we already had a system – MEMS Modular Emergency Medical System, that authorizes a process for determining a list of nationally notifiable diseases and conditions,” he said. “I thought DOH had rolled this out back in 2003/04.”
Taylor said that perhaps MEMS just deals with hospital surge but that his understanding was DOH, as well as all state public health services and CDC participated in some type of electronic surveillance system.
He also thought guidelines were all ready in place for public health entities relating to information systems to receive, monitor, and report infectious diseases and other such conditions.
“If it isn’t, it ought to be,” Taylor said.
He also mentioned that the New Mexico Department of Health already is one of the largest state agencies and he questions whether more people would necessarily mean a better, more efficient system.
“I have a hard time imagining that there are not already folks whose job it is to ‘evaluate best practices in public health surveillance….’,” Taylor said regarding the portion of Bingaman’s bill calling for the establishment of a committee to evaluate best practices in public health surveillance and to assess systems needed for improving coordination among public health surveillance and monitoring systems.
The American Association of Public Health Veterinarians, American Public Health Association, American Society for Microbiology, Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, Association of Public Health Laboratories and other organizations have endorsed Bingaman’s bill.